In sort of, kind of, half-hearted partial defence of Wellington City Council

That isn’t a stance that comes naturally.   Wellington City Council wastes money with the best of them (convention centres, possible runway extension, bike stands outside our church, and so on –  they even use ratepayers’ money to help fund the New Zealand Initiative) and presides over land-use restrictions that deliver increasingly high house prices.  And then there are more localised gripes – but which have managed to get quite a bit of national coverage –  like the Island Bay cycleway.

It was built without adequate consultation, and after it was built an overwhelming majority of participants in a well-run survey of residents conducted by the Residents Association told the Council they didn’t like it and wanted it gone.  There was never an obvious reason for it in the first place –  The Parade was one of the wider flatter safer streets in Wellington –  but the then Mayor lived in Island Bay and liked to cycle to work.   (It remains part of a grand vision of a cycleway all the way into the city –  key bits of rest of the route currently serviced by roads that are barely wide enough anyway).   And the only bit of the street I’d be a bit hesitant about cycling –  through the shopping centre, with reversing angle parkers etc –  is the only bit where there is no cycleway.  It has been a fiasco all round.  It is still relatively early days, but as someone who is mostly a pedestrian or a motorist, I suspect the overall environment is now more dangerous than it was (not very).  As a pedestrian, one suddenly finds the cycleway merging with the footpath (to get round bus stops).  As a motorist turning out of side streets it is materially harder to see oncoming traffic than it used to be.  And I’m not at all sure how people who live on The Parade, backing out of their driveways, cope.  It would probably matter even more if there were many cyclists, but on a nice autumn morning I just walked the length of the cycleway and didn’t see a cyclist.

The story is back in the news because a local dairy owner has decided to close his business, and blames the loss of short-term parking for a downturn in business (more than a few parks were removed to facilitate the cycleway).  Perhaps so, but I’m just a little sceptical.  Perhaps that is partly because it isn’t clear to me who uses dairies, even when parking is no problem, apart perhaps from school kids buying lollies.   I’m in the neighbourhood all day, and I might have used a dairy twice in a year.  But along the length of the cycleway –  a distance I just walked in 14 minutes –  there are six dairies (including the one planning to close soon) and a full-service supermarket (open from 7am to 10pm every day), for a population of around 7000.  There were only one or two more when I first moved here 40 years ago.  On one corner, two dairies face each other across the street –  and somehow seem to survive.  And actually, the dairy that is to close is the furthest from all the others, and the only one everyone has to pass coming into Island Bay from the city.  It is a little hard to believe that the ill-considered cycleway is the only, or even dominant, factor.  The Wellington City Council is guilty of many things, and a prima facie assumpton that they will be guilty of whatever they are charged with is often safe (don’t get me started on the walkway they currently have indefinitely closed to protect “heritage interests”), but perhaps not this time.

None of which excuses the inaction on the cycleway.  It was kicked beyond the election last year, even after the survey results had been released, and now we are told to expect a decision in six months time.  Meanwhile, of our two local councillors, one is off to become a member of Parliament –  unless perhaps the Greens find a more dynamic candidate, in this one of their strongest party vote seats –  and the other sees his future in Christchurch –  he’s running for Parliament for the Greens in Ilam.   The fear remains that the other councillors, the bureaucrats, and the cycling lobby  –  all keen on a whole network of cycleways –  will just wait things out and the monstrosity will be with us forever.

22 thoughts on “In sort of, kind of, half-hearted partial defence of Wellington City Council

  1. When I first saw the cycleway as a motorist, I immediately recognised its dangers.

    Furthermore, because of the cycleway just next to the passenger side, I always have to remind my wife to look out for cyclists at speed as she opens the door. Normally, people open the passengers door without thinking about it unless they are on the drivers side

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    • I was walking along a cycle way the other day not realising it was a cycle way and got abused by 2 cyclists in Mission Bay. We should get rid of cycle ways. What a load of nonsense that pedestrians now have to walk on the main road with the risk of cars because of dedicated cycleways.

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  2. I read the article – design or merits of the cycleway aside and regardless of the financial viability of the business in the first place – my urban planning take on it was this.

    It is a good example of a planning/regulatory decision which was taken because regulators determined (rightly or wrongly) it was for the betterment of the wider community. However, the regulatory action impacted negatively (i.e., caused worsenment) with respect to the property rights of a building owner (one assume the commercial value of the lease has all but disappeared) and on the ownership rights of the business operating from the property. The land value likely now reflects a residential m2 value for property in that street.

    So, I thought, if we had an urban planning act, based on property rights (the RMA does not recognise/deal well with property rights as it is an “environmental effects-based” piece of legislation) which charged betterment across the many and paid worsenment to the few – everyone would win from such planning/community progress – and all excess collected arising from the regime, could be used to fund future growth/betterment initiatives.

    Betterment charges could replace the General Rate – and would fluctuate yearly not based on property valuations but rather on what new/improved public facilities (roads, parks, cycleways, bridleways, swim pools, libraries, seawalls, earthquake strengthening etc.) had sprung up in your neighbourhood and wider ‘social catchment’ – all other council charges would relate to direct services provided to the property, UAGCs (I’d limit these to the cost of governance only) and user-charges would still apply.

    Conversely, if a prison is built in your neighbourhood, or a new SH1 in your backyard (as has recently happened for a few in Kapiti, but at the betterment of many), your betterment charge would be reduced accordingly. The initial betterment charge could be based on land values current at the time the regime was introduced.

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    • Interesting idea. How (concretely) would you make it work, other than using property valuations? And how do prevent majority coalitions picking on minorities to increase the burden on them. The basic idea is appealing, but I struggle with the practical questions of durable workability.

      And – as someone who doesn’t live on The Parade – do my rates go up or down if the Council builds the cycleway? They think it is in the general benefit. but many locals – not just those living on the affected street – think of it as a worsenment.

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      • I’ve only read a bit about it in theory – student paper example, linked below,. I’ve not really read/thought about it thoroughly either… so very much off the top of my head thoughts. Would require a whole new act for urban planning/development – an act based on property rights.

        As mentioned, initial betterment determination would need to be based on existing land valuation (no account of improvements should be taken) and along the lines that General Rates are presently apportioned (in this case to meet the cost of capital projects projected over the course of the next annum (perhaps two years) + interest on existing borrowings + depreciation on existing infrastructure/capital assets). From then on, the betterment charge would be recalculated annually, or perhaps bi-annually. No need for property revaluations by councils thereafter (also a big plus in my mind, as those crude tools used by QV presently inflate the value of every property holding on revaluation – regardless of the condition of an asset – I see those revaluations as playing a big part in property price inflation).

        In this cycleway example, yes, everyone in Island Bay’s betterment would go up (by an equally proportioned amount) because (I assume) this is a planned cycleway on a major/trunk route intended to improve transport connectivity to the main centre of employment (WGTN CBD) – and thereby benefits every property in Island Bay. This would compare to a feeder (to the trunk route) cycleway being apportioned only to those in a smaller surrounding neighbourhood. The worsenment of the major/trunk route would be credited to those properties negatively affected by the cycleway. These types of planning changes (indeed all planning/infrastucture changes) are easily input/recorded in GIS (geographic information systems) – which would automatically (based on the mapped coordinates) update properties of betterment and worsement and apportion charges or credits accordingly. GIS is an extremely powerful tool – so there would be little need for any manual valuation/recalculation – all automated with perhaps some minor tweeks/adjustments but as long as you feed in the right data, those would likely be few and far between.

        Thing about your personal preferences with respect to use/non-use – for any council expenditure not subject to full user/cost recovery – you pay anyway. It’s just the nature of the beast. Communities could (just as they can now) lobby politicians to change funding source for any activity or piece of service provision (e.g., there is nothing in the LGA that specifies whether a public library is fully or part funded by user charges at present). LAs have tremendous flexibility in the way they fund activities – the current rating toolkit is not necessarily used to its best advantage presently (to my mind).

        http://www.spains.com.au/Detailed%20Essays/David%20Spain/SR%20&%20Town%20Planning.pdf

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      • PS – when mentioning capital projects subject to betterment/worsenment regime – this would not relate to capital spent on infrastructure that is presently charged via fixed or targeted rates, for example sewerage/water reticulation; metred parking, etc. We’re talking about public/non-excludable goods: street lights, swimming pools, sidewalks, libraries, parks, roadways, etc. Some infrastructure might be a mix, for example a seawall protecting a public roadway – where the residences across the road might be charged a smaller fixed rate portion of the expenditure and the wider community the balance via betterment.

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    • In PNG it is called ‘compensation’ and applies to almost anything but I like your idea of applying it to development. There is one tall building in Takapuna that offends me every time I see it and it can be seen from St Heliers to Glenfield – if the builder had had to compensate all the neighbours who had their view of Rangitoto down-graded then it would never have been built. Of course one man’s meat is anothers poison but it shouldn’t be too difficult to establish some guidelines – for example a new structure that reduces sunlight to your property could be judged by to what extent (for how long per day and at what time of day) and which locations (garden shed or main living room etc.)

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      • Works ok for things like that, so long as initial property rights are clearly assigned, because it involves private property. It is a lot more difficult to make work for public services. Is the local library a betterment to me? My daughter uses it, but I think it should be closed down and consolidated with the (not far away) other libraries on this side of town. Or a cycleway……

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      • In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be a direct matter of only/exclusively a building owner/developer paying the betterment, but yes compensation would be available for those negatively affected by the planning/regulatory decision to grant such a development consent. The point being that, the consent proposal must have gone ahead because some property right holder(s) benefited – perhaps new unit title holders, perhaps the owner of the land with respect to ground rents now chargeable, perhaps lessee/lessors of commercial space, and/or increased traffic flow to adjacent/near vicinity commercial space/landholdings etc.

        It would really force the planning profession into more rigorous use of CBA in the strict sense of its application/techniques as practiced in economics. The RMA’s present section 32 analysis (often referred to as a benefit cost or cost benefit analysis) isn’t CBA at all – and is very poor (in my opinion) in terms of properly considering these sorts of property right matters.

        But, yes, you’re spot on with respect to the idea.

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      • It is this NIMBY attitude that prevents high rise and high density which reduces the cost of housing. Sea views are not protected nor should it be. The problem in Auckland and the Unitary Plan is the protection of the views of those sacred volcanic mounts with visual height limits called Viewshaft. It is precisely this nonsense regulation that creates expensive housing.

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  3. Hi Michael

    I am not sure if you want to correct your post or not, but your claim of a “a well-run survey of residents conducted by the Residents Association” is incorrect. A number of the problems are detailed here:

    http://www.islandbaycycleway.org.nz/blog/survey-problems

    Further more, there was manipulation of who received he survey (Many who had publicly supported the cycleway were excluded), and afterwards, the privacy of individual respondents was breached by the survey organizers.

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    • Thanks for the link (which I think i might have encountered previously). It wasn’t an ideal survey, but for what it was it seemed pretty well-conducted to me (including the verification procedures to protect against eg multiple voting). The questions weren’t loaded one way or the other, the turnout was pretty good for such a poll (and I’m not worried about the absence of children – of whom I have three – any more than I was for say the flag referendum). I wasn’t aware of the claims in your second para, but in terms of availability of the survey, not only was it distributed letterbox to letterbox but from memory voting forms were available in the supermarket and other places around the Bay.

      In terms of strength of feeling, it is of course difficult to judge that from survey results alone, but in an informal (and not statistically valid) sense the self-selected nature of respondents probably meant that those who cared relatively more about the issue (on either side) were more motivated to be involved.

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      • Excellent summary…there was plenty of opportunity for residents who were passionate either way to vote. I volunteered to deliver flyers to mailboxes and we were given streets….not house numbers to deliver to…you could have been pro or con for all I knew. I also saw plenty of flyers at local retailers. It was far more widely publicised locally and balanced than anything the council did earlier.

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  4. I think it’s a shame that the dairy will be closing. And I agree that it’s not only the cycleway that is the cause for it’s closure. But I strongly believe that the cycleway had caused it to close before it’s time.
    I also live on the parade. And am very fortunate that I have room on my front section to turn my car around. As reversing past the cycle lane and past the illegal car parks outside my house just a little too daunting. There’s also the issue of having to watch for cyclists when you want to pull into your driveway, As half the time you just can’t see them. As several cyclists tend to use it as a personal race track.

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    • Have you hit anyone yet? Cos if it was truly dangerous you’d prolly have hit someone by now, seeing how it’s been there for 12 months.

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  5. Here in Chch, we’ve moved to round 2. Complaints by businesses about the adverse effects caused by loss of parking, increased congestion etc have resulted in one (so far) cycleway being re-routed through nearby residential streets, necessitating the forced acquisition and demolition of two houses — much to the (rightful) chagrin of the owners.

    Out at the university, a brand new cycleway that’s roughly the width of the (much-diminished) road has recently appeared along the length of University Drive. The trouble is that, in the five weeks it’s been there, over the course of driving in and out of the university each day and walking to various classes, I’ve counted a total of exactly seven cyclists using it. Mostly it’s used by pedestrians, who seem bemused by the amount of unnecessary room they’ve suddenly been gifted. Meanwhile, most cyclists continue to use the road — on which there’s now no room for them.

    If all this were part of a novel, it’d be derided as being unnecessarily far-fetched.

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  6. I have to correct one part of your post:

    You said that ” The Parade was one of the wider flatter safer streets in Wellington.” The cycle way was not, in fact, built to make it safer. Indeed, as you point out, it was already very safe. Rather, protected cycleways (as this one is thru car parking) make people FEEL safer, and therefore encourage them to cycle. The goal is to increase the number of cyclists in the city, and one of the best ways to do so is to make them feel safer while cycling.

    I would not have allowed a child to ride on the old cycleway, which was just a bit of paint with no physical protection. I would allow a child to ride on this one. Indeed, I saw many children cycling to school on it this morning.

    This is an important detail because it’s the starting point on which a lot of anti cycleway criticism is based. It was not built in order to improve safety. It was built to encourage cycling. Criticism should be through this lens rather than thru a safety lens.

    Also, not for nothing, but when I cycled south on it this morning, it took me 3 minutes to go from one end of Island Bay to the other, and I saw 9 people going north. That’s hardly Netherlands level uptake, but it’s certainly more than “nobody using it.”

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    • By contrast, i had no problem with my daughter cycling on The Parade, pre-cycleway, ignoring the previous so-called “cycleway”. Perhaps it partly reflected my upbringing, cycling up and down Great South Road to intermediate school?

      I’m certainly not suggesting no one uses the cycleway. My account in the post was explicitly about a late morning walk on a clear still day. That tends to be the sort of time of day I walk The Parade. Often i encounter no cyclists, and it is rare to encounter for than one.

      The biggest challenging for cycling from I Bay to town are the bits outside Island Bay – which I’d be very uneasy about riding myself. This was the cycleway that could be built, rather than the cycleway that might “need” to be built if cycling to town is really to be made to feel safer for many more people.

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      • Yup, agree that it’s a bit of a stranded island at the moment. I believe the initial plans were to continue all the way through to tow. I believe that then the cycle infrastructure fund thing showed up, with different criteria to get matching funds, so that fact combined with the gigantic backlash by IB residents caused council to abandon the rest of the way into town.

        If nothing else, they’ve hopefully learned a thing or two about consulting on cycleways from this debacle. I guess we’ll see how the Hutt Rd and Eastern Suburbs projects go.

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  7. I think the other factor, perhaps even more important, was the canning of the Basin Reserve flyover. The initial cycleway vision envisaged easy cycle solutions there. Oh, and add in that the land requirements for the rest of the cycleway mean it would be much, much, more expensive.

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    • Unlikely but to be honest I actually have no idea. I just say unlikely because it’s currently very easy to cycle through the basin. That’s not really a choke point for bikes.

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